Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

· ‘100 million Facebook members for Democracy in Iran’ on Facebook has 234,847 members.

· A Google search on the keywords “Iran election protests,” returns more than five million (5,740,000 to be precise) results.

· Students in Moldova used Twitter as a tool to mobilize opposition against a communist victory in Moldovian elections

The role of the social networking got extensive media coverage after the disputed election results in Iran and the following protests. Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social-networking tools were used to facilitate discussion, debate, and the exchange of ideas and information. The entire movement was branded as a twitter revolution with the social-networking technologies as a prominent component of “main street” communications. Numerous websites emerged as an information clearinghouse, with such details as the location of future protests, posting warnings on government crackdowns, and sharing updates of individuals injured, killed, arrested, or missing.

This is important because the availability of the Internet in Iran is not widespread. Additionally, Iranian infrastructure, does not provide most Iranians with access to broadband. Yet, through the strong Iranian diaspora, the protestors reached out to the world. An example of the importance diaspora is that the most popular facebook account on democracy in Iran originates from New York.

What does this mean for India, a country with a sizable net using population in terms of absolute numbers? For one, one has to caution against misrepresentation. While the number of Indians is the highest after Brazilians on Orkut, net penetration is low if the at the country level. Any movement generated online should therefore needs to have that caveat to avert risk of amplifying one side of the issue, those that pertain to the net-enabled.

India also has a sizable large diaspora population, not just as “labor frontiers” but as intellectual export that exhibits online social-networking behavior more similar to nations with high levels of Internet penetration.

Analyst also note that the “freedom to scream” online may actually help the state by providing a “political release valve.” Repressive regimes can also employ social networking for their own ends, hawking propaganda and spreading disinformation.

Information assurance–knowing that data are precise and reliable–remains the most serious concern regarding social-networking tools. Rumors, perfidy, or inaccurate information can be dispersed at least as fast as facts. Information technology allows researchers to conduct more and better analysis, but it also allows opinion makers to spin better, more compelling stories faster and proliferate them more widely.

It is hard to predict how this cornucopia of user-generated media would impact India which has a relatively free media. Can it be expected to be more serious, as the TRP ratings matter less (though the number of hits on the blog does)? Intellectually superior to media reporting as blogging is based on an interest in the subject? Potent, because finally opinion makes on net are also increasingly decision makers?

Does social networking really have the potential to stir and/ steer a revolution?

- Ipsita Basu

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